book in a monthCan YOU Write a Book in a Month?

by Marg McAlister


Can you write a book in a month?

Well, it's certainly possible. Many people have proved that.

Could YOU do it? Probably, if you don't have any family/work disasters... illness, unexpected trips, etc .

We're talking about the rough draft here, not a book that's ready to send to a publisher. You can polish and edit to your heart's content once you have the finished product in front of you.

You will find that you can achieve unprecedented output if you set deadlines. The overall deadline is a book in 30 days, but there are plenty of smaller goals along the way to keep you motivated (and on track).

For a book of 50,000 words you need to average 1,667 words a day. For most people, that is easily achievable. You can do it by getting up a couple of hours earlier, staying up later, or break it up into a lunch hour and two half-hour stints before breakfast and after dinner. If you really want to do it, you'll find the time. 1,667 words a day is 11,669 words in a week. You can tackle this in whatever way suits your lifestyle. Blitz it with 12000 words at weekends? 500 words a day during the week and the rest at the weekend? Write when it's flowing and rest-and-think at other times? Whatever.

You're in the driver's seat. The tips below will help you to structure your approach to writing a book in a month.

1. Mental Preparation

You might be starting to WRITE from scratch on Day 1, but you can do any amount of mental preparation beforehand.

Think about your plot. Think about your characters. Mull over their motivation, their reactions, their goals, the obstacles they encounter.

What if you don't even have a plot? Use the "springboard" technique. This is easy. Think of a book or a movie you liked. What was the basis of the plot? What was the theme of the novel? Can you use this as a springboard for your own plot?

  • Change the characters. (Not just the NAME of the characters... you're not plagiarizing; you're getting ideas.)
  • Change the lead character's goal.
  • Change the obstacles/challenges that this character faces.
  • Change the setting.
  • Change the outcome. Think 'new twists'. Think 'different forks in the road'.

Guess what? You now have a completely new story...

2. Ask "Why?"

Many problems arise from poor character motivation. Don't jerk your characters around like puppets. Your readers will know if you're forcing them into certain situations or decisions to suit the plot.

Plot and character should grow together; one should not drive the other. Make sure the actions your characters take are believable. "Always Ask Why" is a useful article on character motivation. You can find it on this site. (See link at the bottom of this page).

3. Plot While Exercising

Writers rarely get enough exercise. When you're at the computer, write. Use other times during the day to plot, invent characters, brainstorm, outline etc. This is the perfect time to get some exercise. While you're walking/swimming/cycling/line dancing (okay, maybe not when you're line dancing) you can muse over those tricky plot twists.

Run through the opening to your story or scene in your mind. SEE the characters. LISTEN to your characters. Make this a mental movie. (If you're riding anything other than a stationary bike, I wouldn't recommend closing your eyes though.)

Another trick: Buy a small voice-activated recorder (or use the recording function on your MP3 player) and dictate ideas into it while you're walking. This beats stopping every few blocks to jot down an idea.

4. Start With a Brain Dump

Begin each day's work session with a 'brain dump' onto paper or onto the screen. Just spill out ideas, notes, scraps of dialogue, whatever comes to mind. This will warm up your writing muscles as well as capture any free-floating ideas. Think of it as priming the pump. Lots of writers swear by half an hour of Sudoku or Solitaire, too - but this might take up too much time if you're squeezing in your writing time around other commitments.

5. Write! Just get started, no matter how brain-dead you're feeling. Aim at that average of 1667 words a day. When you reach that, you can stop (with a heartfelt sigh of relief) or keep rolling. What if the words just won't come? Stop the scene you're working on and move to something else.

Write a scene from anywhere in the book. Nobody said this has to be chronological. Pick a scene you can't wait to write. If all else fails, start an argument with your lead character over his/her lack of cooperation in the process and see what he/she has to say! Another fun technique is to invent a brand new character on the fly and let them come on to the scene. Encourage them complicate things for the main character and see where that takes you.

6. Do Something Every Day

Even if you've done your quota of words for the week, keep thinking about your novel. Polish a previous scene. Plan the next scene - even if this means simply running through it in your mind. Tweak the outline. Introduce a new plot twist. Don't let your novel get away from you... it's all too easy to ignore it for 'just one day', then another day, then before you know it a week has passed and you've completely lost momentum. KEEP GOING.

7. Don't Get Over-Tired

Although it's certainly do-able, writing a novel in a month is a big commitment. It's easy to get so tired that you just can't cope any more. Working with your novel can be like coping with a fretful new baby, constantly making demands on your time. What do you do when a new baby makes you so tired you can't see straight? You forget about normal sleeping patterns and grab naps when you can. A 15-minute power nap can do more for you than 2 hours at night, if you take it when your body demands it.

If you're really tired, take the day off and settle for *thinking* about your novel before you go to sleep at night.

8. Get Support

Part of the reason that NaNoWriMo has captured the imagination of writers all around the world is that it includes a huge community of writers, all racing to meet the same deadline. They support each other online and in neighbourhood groups. They share frustration and ask each other for help. They arrange their lives to focus on just one thing for a month - getting that novel written! You'll do a lot better if you can organise a support team.

  • Find another writer who's ready to join in the challenge. Email each other; phone each other up.
  • Announce to your family and friends that you won't be available for a month because you have this HUGE deadline.
  • Get family support with household tasks.

When the month is over, look back at what you have achieved. It's likely that you've been more productive than ever before. When you push yourself to achieve a great deal in a small amount of time, you can see how easy it is to procrastinate.

1,667 words a day. Even if you take out 8 hours for sleeping, that's only 104 words an hour!

Oh, so you work? Take out 10 more hours for working, showering, commuting and eating?

That still leaves you six hours... which comes to 278 words an hour. Remember, you don't have to edit or polish - this is a rough draft. Heck, you could write 278 words and watch Desperate Housewives at the same time.

So... can YOU write a book in a month? Of course you can. Pick your thirty-day stretch, and commit!

© Marg McAlister


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